Beats & Pieces Big Band, Good Days, Efpi ***1/2

Their third studio album the UK's Beats & Pieces Big Band 14 years on sound as good as ever pushing at the boundaries of big band which in lesser hands is an anomaly. The real meat of the album centres on the tough, cynical, world weary 'Op' …

Published: 12 Jan 2023. Updated: 16 days.

Their third studio album the UK's Beats & Pieces Big Band 14 years on sound as good as ever pushing at the boundaries of big band which in lesser hands is an anomaly. The real meat of the album centres on the tough, cynical, world weary 'Op' while the elastic feel of 'Elegy' and above all in terms of confounding our expectations the tender 'Cminriff' are key tracks. Ben Cottrell's outfit recorded Good Days in Scotland and Manchester and utilise field recordings from Bern and Berlin - this aspect of the album doesn't work as well because the sound of bird squawking we can take but mostly leave. Tunes are mainly by the visionary Cottrell plus a couple by saxist Anthony Brown and one, 'Op', (streaming already) by drummer Finlay Panter. Where the band really comes into its own is when it does rain streaked melancholy and becomes more intimate as on 'Cminriff' which is not easy given the arsenal at the band's disposal that needs using. They all can't resist a bit of a blast when they get past the opening pleasantries of '(Blues for) Linu' and go raucous on 'Woody'. But stylistically Beats & Pieces are hard to place - they aren't old fashioned or at all American sounding in outlook. And they aren't avant-garde either. But they do deliver some individual statements that play with the form and manage to somehow locate intimacy even when everything goes full tonto. Their northernness wins out in the end. Out on 27 January. Click for upcoming tour dates

Tags: LATESTALBUMS

Alex Sipiagin, Mel's Vision, Criss Cross ****1/2

It is often the situation that when an album is full of irresistible standards the originals get forgotten about. But when you buy into the performance fundamentally beyond the material because you like the way they do things you end up digging the …

Published: 11 Jan 2023. Updated: 17 days.

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It is often the situation that when an album is full of irresistible standards the originals get forgotten about. But when you buy into the performance fundamentally beyond the material because you like the way they do things you end up digging the originals especially if they seem in keeping with the flow of the whole thing no matter how they sound. Now there are dangers in this and something can become a period piece or just made to sound like some standard or other via a nifty contrafact or near rewrite for instance.

Not here. The other observation worth making before diving in to this 2021 studio recording from trumpeter Alex Sipiagin's quintet is that it is refreshing when a leader is a side player on someone else's record especially when they are a global sax icon like Chris Potter. And it isn't just that that not-outta-Hogwarts wiz is doing ever so 'umble sideman cosplay either by not making his presence count because the saxophonist also contributes the delightful 'Maritima'. All the other players on Mel's Vision are leaders too: Johnathan Blake excellent on Blue Note in recent years is at the kit; pianist David Kikoski reviewed in these pages this week on an uptempo Cole Porter romp with Joe Locke; and Matt Brewer on bass as inventive as ever complete the quintet. As for the official leader Sipiagin few have such an expressive tone on high notes and the American of Russian heritage is also one of the most quick wittted hardbop trumpeters around no matter how straightahead the situation.

It's interesting that there are two takes on Ornette Coleman's 'Bird Food' here both extremely good so maybe that is the point at keeping them both in. The topical element from today's point of view - although the recording pre-dates the war in Europe - is the Ukrainian folk song that fits perfectly in the running order. The title track 'Mel's Vision' is Sipiagin's own tune, the style pervasively hard bop but because Blake is a lively time keeper not too daddio or dog eared. Best of all is the take on Don Friedman's 'Summer's End' which is far better than any version I've heard by Friedman. It's a lovely tune. Pieces by McCoy Tyner, another of Sipiagian's and Mingus' 'Peggy's Blue Skylight' also beat it on to the record. The only thing against the album is it's a bit too generic as textbook approaches however effective weirdly often can be. Nevertheless Criss Cross continues its very strong release pattern recently. Here the loose but effective arranging is a big factor and the blend of superlative talents who know the idiom inside out make the effect as satisfying and unexpected as spring sunshine.

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L-r: Johnathan Blake, Matt Brewer, Alex Sipiagin, David Kikoski, Chris Potter. Photo: from the Criss Cross sleeve. The album is out on 27 January.